You read that right, the rot should have stayed in Hellblade. I know there was a ton of backlash against Ninja Theory when this aspect of the game first came to light. A lot of people did not like the concept. In short, the rot is a disease that first grows on Senua’s arm. If it reaches her head, she “loses the seat of her soul” and everything is lost. If you die enough times, this overtakes Senua and all progression is gone. You have to start all over from the beginning. This has really dissuaded a lot of people from buying the game, for fear of failure and having to start over. I’m here to tell you that this was an integral feature of the game that should have stayed.
The Rot Was A Key Feature
There are a few reasons as to why this feature should have stayed. One of them is getting the player to fear failure. Failure lives with players in games all the time. However, that failure rarely is accompanied by any consequences more dire than losing progress. Fear of failure is a difficult thing to convey in a game, ironic considering how, unfortunately, some people live this way every single day. It’s generally not something that a gamer wants to experience while playing a game. Hellblade has a focus on mental illness with Senua, in the form of Psychosis. There are numerous factors that lead to this illness. But one aspect, in particular, is very relatable to players, which is anxiety. Fear and anxiety easily co-exist together, and it can be difficult to differentiate the two sometimes. Fear is a sudden, adrenaline-inducing state of mind, while anxiety is a constant IV drip of dread.
Step In Someone Else’s Shoes
One of Ninja Theory’s goals with the rot mechanic is to give that anxious feeling. It puts the player into a certain mindset. When the rot is introduced, a slight bit of fear and anxiety settles in. You have an idea of what Senua is dealing with. The voices, the fear, and the hopelessness coalesce into a constant deterrent eating away at your motivation. It’s quite literally a battle of mental strength. This is a persistent fact of everyday life to Senua in her story, and for others in reality as well. I can personally attest from my own severe anxiety issues that living with the feeling of constant dread is burdensome. It’s important though, that for others that don’t have anxiety issues, to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Let’s imagine playing the game with the rot still implemented. You’ve already played the short 10-15 minutes of gameplay before this mechanic is introduced. When you die for the first time in Hellblade, that slight amount of anxiety goes up. You battle your way through again, gaining further progress than before. Potentially, you fail at a section further down the line, and restart over. The rot is getting worse, your frustration is building, your anxiety is coursing and you don’t know what to do. You push onward, hoping that you can make it further than before. It’s a tough cycle to deal with for most players.
This is a big reason why people wanted this removed. Why play a game where if you fail enough times, all your progress resets? Apparently having this mechanic in a game makes someone so uncomfortable that it completely deters them from playing the game in the first place. Unfortunately, people in real life, don’t get that choice. Ninja Theory is going to continue down this path of portraying mental illness their games. Hopefully in the future people will have a more open mind.
It’s Ok To Be Uncomfortable
Ninja Theory designed Hellblade in a way to help players empathize with people suffering from Psychosis. The objective is not a minor thing to achieve, or an easy mental illness to properly portray. The developers put a lot of work, time, and effort into creating such a new and unique game experience. It’s unfortunate that the amount of backlash the developers received forced this feature to be removed. Players need to be more open-minded and understanding of the game’s creative vision and its trajectory. As dissuading as a feature it might be, maybe take a second to think and wonder, why? Especially in regards to games that focus on mental health or illness in some form or fashion.
Fortunately for the player though, you have the option to buy and play the game, and experience it or not. You are able to choose whether or not you want to explore the game and realize what it’s trying to portray. Players are able to avoid missing out on that heavy anxious feeling and sense of fear. You as a player, are lucky to have that choice. Many others don’t get to have those options and live every day with these illnesses. Instead of lashing out at a game feature because it makes us slightly uncomfortable, take a moment to ponder about it. There is a certain creative vision Ninja Theory aimed for. Even though Hellblade was well received, it ended up having a crucial feature being taken away to appease a vocal minority.